The Bible is Sexist and Misogynistic Against Eve?
By Luke Lancaster
Feminists will sometimes attack the depiction of Eve in Genesis 2-3, arguing that it demeans women and portrays them as less equal to men. They raise three objections. First, they turn to Genesis 2:18 and 2:20, where Adam needs a “help-mate” and is given Eve. This purportedly indicates that women are not as important as men, for being a “help-mate” would mean that women are men’s servants or assistants. Second, feminists will point to Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib in Gen. 2:21-22, claiming that it indicates that Adam is more important than Eve. For Eve is taken from the man. Third and finally, they say that the Fall of humanity is a sexist account. For the Bible portrays Eve as the first sinner. How is a Christian to respond to these accusations? I would compassionately say that I think they are reading into the text. For (1) “Help-mate” means something that’s very different than servant or assistant, (2) Eve’s creation from Adam actually emphasizes her equality with Adam, and (3) the culpability of the Fall of humanity does not rest solely upon Eve, but upon Adam and the serpent as well.
When feminists think that Gen. 2:18, 20 both demean women by calling Eve Adam’s “help,” they are not recognizing the other usages of “help” in Scripture. The Hebrew word for “help” is used as a noun 21x in the Old Testament, only 2 of which have just been quoted. The other usages refer to people who are the “help” of another in an exalting way, not in a demeaning way.
The Hebrew word for “help” is used most of the time (15/21 usages) in reference to God. God is seen as the protecting “help” force for the Israelite nation against her enemies. For example, Psalm 115:9 says, “O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” God also helped Israel in her exodus out of Egypt, for Exodus 18:4 says, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharoah.” If the word for “help” means that the helper is less important than the one helped, then that would absurdly mean that God is less than Israel. On the contrary, Israel is obviously the inferior one, for Israel must love God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength! It is not demeaning to call God Israel’s “help,” for God is Israel’s king, who’s every law must be obeyed!
The remaining four usages of the Hebrew word for “help” is in reference to personal aide. The guards of king Zedekiah of Israel, for example, are considered his “help.” Ezekiel 12:14 says, “I [God] will scatter to every wind all who are around him [Zedekiah], his help [bodyguards] and all his troops; and I will unsheathe the sword behind them.” Such bodyguards are not being demeaned with the word “help,” for they have vital positions within the kingdom. Another passage that utilizes this word in Hosea 13:9, which says, “I [God] will destroy you, O Israel; who can be your help?” This passage is emphasizing the life-sustaining help of the other nations surrounding Israel within the ancient Near East. Their personal aide can be called Israel’s “help” without degrading them in any way. So, the minority usage of the word “help” is for bodyguards and whole nations, in other words, important people with important roles.
As seen, the Hebrew word for “help” means a few things, and I’ll list a few: (1) It is always a personal help; not the impersonal help found in money or instruments; (2) The situations for which this help is given are consistently those of great danger or need; (3) The help is indispensable: without it, falling prey to the danger is inevitable; (4) In the large majority of cases, God is the cause of help, more rarely human beings. So, the Bible is not demeaning towards women by using the word “help.” Women are not considered unimportant people, rather, an argument can be made that they are more important than the man! Who wouldn’t want to be described with a word typically reserved for God?
Source: My old professor, biblical scholar Dr. Michael Waldstein, who summarized in my Theology of the Body class the article by J. L. Ska, “Je vais lui faire un allie qui soit son homologue (Gn 2,18): A propos du terme “ezer-aide,” Biblica 65 (1984) 233-238.
Another argument utilized by feminists is the creation account in Genesis 2. The first woman created, Eve, is created from the rib of the first man, Adam (Gen. 2:21-22). Does this indicate that Adam is more important or has more value than Eve? Not necessarily. Being created from Adam’s side indicates equality with Adam, as emphasized throughout the context of Genesis 1 and 2.
Genesis 1 says that both Adam and Eve are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), not just Adam. This is striking because, in ancient times, Plato considered only man to have been made in the image of the gods. Both man and woman, according to Gen. 1, are made in God’s image, though, meaning that both are walking idols of God. If both Adam and Eve are equal, then Eve’s creation from Adam’s side would be a sign of equality.
This foundation set in Gen. 1 is then intensified in Gen. 2. Adam exclaims at the creation of Eve that she is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” – indicating equality (Gen. 2:23). They both are then to unite and form “one flesh,” which hardly indicates a denigration of Eve (Gen. 2:24). This one-flesh union occurs through the man (not the woman) leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife, which is quite odd for the ancient Near East. For it was the woman who normally had to leave her father and mother to be joined to her husband. Genesis flips this on its head and emphasizes the need for the man to leave his parents. Maybe Scripture is being the opposite of misogynistic, here! So, when Eve is made from a rib of Adam, it implies equality at the minimum.
Besides the context of Gen. 1-2, consider five other points relating to Eve’s creation from Adam.
First, creation from a rib is closest to the heart, so Scripture might be emphasizing how Eve is to be Adam’s most intimate friend. She is not taken from his foot or his head, but from the center of his body. If Genesis was attempting to teach equality, then that would be the place from Adam to create Eve.
Second, creation from Adam could indicate the exalted position of Eve. In Gen. 1, God moves from creating things like light, skies, oceans, plants, stars, birds, and livestock to the creation of Adam and Eve. In Gen. 2, it specifies that Eve was created after Adam. If Eve was made after Adam as the final creation of God, then this could mean that Eve is God’s greatest masterpiece.
Third, Eve’s creation from Adam’s rib is a better creation account than Adam’s. Adam was made from the lowly dust of the earth and was then infused with God’s life (Gen. 2:7). Eve was made from a creature already infused with God’s breathe, which sounds better than being made from dust!
Fourth, if the creation account was reversed and Adam was taken from Eve’s rib, then feminists might still take offense to this. They could argue that Eve was incomplete on her own as God’s final creation and God then had to make the greater Adam from her. And if Eve had been made from dust, then feminists might attack that as indicating lesser dignity than Adam.
Fifth, although Eve was made from Adam, St. Paul notes how “man is now born of woman” (1 Cor. 11:12). All men are descended from one mother – Eve (Gen. 3:20). The process is reversed and evens the playing field. If Genesis were misogynistic, then Eve’s motherhood of all mankind would not spoken of, only Adam’s fatherhood.
A final argument relating to Adam and Eve that gets used by feminists is that Eve is the first sinner in Scripture (Gen. 3:6). She is the principal cause of the fall of mankind, which is commonly called the “original sin.” For Eve is the one who first goes for the apple forbidden by God in the Garden of Eden. Does this mean that Genesis suggests that Eve possesses less dignity than Adam? No, Eve shares culpability with the devil and Adam.
Eve’s fall can be turned back on Adam, for Adam is supposed to love and protect Eve like a knight (Eph. 5:21-31). The deeper issue is Adam’s failure to do his job. This interpretation makes sense considering that St. Paul places all of the blame on Adam in Romans 5. He says, "[B]y the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (Rom. 5:19). Because of Adam, everybody after Adam were considered to be sinners. The emphasis is on Adam, not Eve.
The fall of Adam and Eve can also be turned on the devil. For Eve sins first only because the devil (symbolized by the serpent) tempts her first (Gen. 3:1-5). If Adam had been tempted first, then maybe he would have fallen first. For Adam and Eve were not looking to disobey God, instead, they disobeyed once the Devil offered his cunning temptation.
Now, imagine if this story were flipped, whereby Adam was tempted first and sinned first. There would still be problems for feminists. For then Adam would be giving the forbidden fruit to Eve - and she would be passively following him! Feminists would condemn this as portraying Eve as a doormat and enslaved to her husband! They might even say that the Bible focused on Adam first because he was most important, whereas Eve was of limited significance! So, the issue is eisegesis - reading one's preconceived notions into the text.
The feminist movement in general, to me at least, seems to be a somewhat natural consequence of men not being the humble, servant leaders of their wives that God commanded (Ephesians 5:22-33). Because of this, feminists read everything with a certain type of "lens," seeing things in the text that only they see. If Christians love them like Christ, though, then over time such women might take off those lens - and see the beauty of Christianity. The beauty of being a "help-mate" and the beauty of being the "rib" of Adam - underneath his arm. And hopefully from there, they will see the beauty of motherhood and the life within the mother's womb. But those topics will be for another day. Suffice it to say: Eve is not lesser in dignity than Adam.